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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » November 30, 2010
Tourism: Promoting Poland
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Diversity Is Poland’s Biggest Advantage
November 30, 2010   
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Rafał Szmytke, president of the Polish Tourist Organization, talks to the Voice’s Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.

What is the contribution of the tourist industry to Poland’s GDP?
Recent research indicates that the share of the tourist sector in Poland’s GDP is around 6 percent, which is much more than the contribution of the agricultural sector or such flagship industries as mining and steel. And one should remember that the real contribution of the tourist sector is much higher than 6 percent because tourism is an interdisciplinary sphere. Tourism means not only air travel, hotels and restaurants, as is popularly believed. Tourism combines and stimulates the development of many other sectors, such as transport, agriculture, education, culture and health care, including health tourism. Everyone who travels and uses various tourism-related services during their journey is a tourist.

This broad definition of tourism makes it difficult to capture real tourist traffic. This is why for statistical purposes, tourists are defined as persons who spend at least one night outside their place of residence. People who do not use accommodation services are called arrivals. These two groups differ significantly in size. It is estimated that in recent years, Poland has been visited by up to 50 million foreigners annually, but only 13-15 million of them are considered to be tourists. After Poland’s entry into the Schengen Area, it became even more difficult to estimate the real size of tourist traffic. Earlier, it had been possible to estimate tourist traffic quite accurately on the basis of the number of people crossing Poland’s borders.

Do the government and local governments value tourism considering that it is such an important sector of the national economy?
Unfortunately, tourism is not regarded as such an important sector in Poland as in other European countries. But tourism has an increasingly strong position in the Polish economy and this is reflected in a new approach to it by local governments. Not long ago, tourism was associated in many places in Poland merely with holidays rather than as an important sector of the economy. In recent years, the situation has changed. Local governments have realized that they may generate income from tourism by using European Union funding, for instance. It is estimated that as much as 1.5 billion euros of EU money has been invested by local governments in tourism.

Thanks to this change in the perception of tourism, regions which until recently were not considered attractive to tourists have started to see tourism as a stimulus for their development. One example is Silesia, which has recently become a European capital of post-industrial tourism. Tourist trails in former mine tunnels, factories and similar sites are being developed in the region. Many foreign tourists who come here are surprised that there are such interesting places in Poland.

The Polish Tourist Organization (POT) is the only government agency responsible for the promotion of Poland as a country attractive for tourism. What is POT’s budget?
This year, POT has a budget of around zl.38 million. As a comparison, Hungary, a much smaller country than Poland, spends four times as much for the promotion of tourism. Not to mention Spain, which sets aside 120 million euros for this purpose. Our budget has to be sufficient for POT’s promotional activity in Poland and for the activity of our offices in 14 countries.

Our mission is to promote Polish tourism and support its development. Additionally, we are a government agency that supports businesses operating in the tourist sector, both those which organize visits to Poland and those which provide services to tourists in Poland.

This means that POT is one of the few government agencies whose activity is largely focused on cooperation with the private sector.
I would even say that the activity of POT and regional and local tourist organizations is the best example in Poland of public-private partnership. Without such cooperation it would be difficult for us to compete on the international market. One should remember that every country has its tourist organization whose mission is to attract as many tourists as possible.

How does POT promote Poland’s attractiveness for tourism?
Since our budget is not large, we try to base our activities on innovation and unusual ideas. One example of such activities was a three-month-long voyage of the Fryderyk Chopin sailing ship, which called at more than 20 European seaports. This undertaking was unusual in that it consisted of reversing traditional forms of promotion. Many national organizations give preference to advertising their tourist attractions in the press, television and other media. This however, requires very high outlays. We reversed this pattern. We decided to do something that would make the media present our activity on their own initiative. The Fryderyk Chopin was greeted by thousands of people in each of the seaports it visited and aroused great interest from the local and regional media, which resulted in many publications about Poland and its attractiveness for tourism.

What, in your view, is the strongest magnet attracting tourists to Poland?
I think that Poland’s biggest advantage is its diversity. In Poland, it is possible to find something of interest for every tourist. For example, the magnet which attracts the Japanese to Poland is Chopin, something which has been particularly evident this season as we celebrated the Chopin Year. But Warsaw’s Old Town is also a great attraction for the Japanese. Interestingly, most of the Japanese tourists who come to Poland know well why Warsaw’s Old Town has been placed on the UNESCO world heritage list. They know that it is a phenomenon on a global scale in terms of historical neighborhood reconstruction. Many tourists from other countries, as well as many Poles, are unaware of this fact.

How is POT going to generate interest in Poland among tourists from other countries?
Our marketing strategy for the promotion of Poland in the tourist sector until 2015 defines measures which we should take on individual markets. The strategy describes preferences of tourists from various countries and their expectations. We prepare specific tourist products according to these guidelines. We have a calendar of activities for coming years. It includes the most important undertakings associated with media highlights, like for example the Chopin Year, Poland’s EU presidency and the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament. In the near future, we will also begin promotional campaigns on the British, German and French markets, the three markets that are the most important for us.

It seems that the Euro 2012 tournament to be hosted by Poland together with Ukraine is the best opportunity to present Poland as a country attractive for tourism. Soccer is a very popular sport so the tournament will attract worldwide attention.

That is true. This is why in March 2011, Poland will be the partner of the world’s biggest tourist fair, ITB in Germany. We will be organizing its opening, which will mean huge interest from the media. The Euro 2012 tournament will be the main theme of our exhibition. We are also planning a joint campaign with the Agriculture Ministry designed to promote Polish food.

POT’s promotional activities are concentrated mainly on European markets. How do you promote Poland’s attractiveness for tourism in other parts of the world?
It is easier for us to conduct promotional activities in European countries. One reason is that we have an opportunity to use EU funding. This, however, does not mean that we ignore markets outside Europe. During the international exhibition Expo 2010 in Shanghai, we organized Polish Week together with the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency to show Poland’s tourist potential. But on the Chinese market, we are not going to restrict ourselves to one-off activities. By the end of the year we want to start more regular activities through POT’s Chinese office, which will be located in Beijing or Shanghai. We are also going to intensify our activities in India.

Of course, on these markets we will focus on business-to-business activities, including contacts between tourist operators of both countries, workshops and study visits. The visa requirement is certainly an obstacle to the development of tourist traffic with these countries. Another problem is that there are no direct air connections with Poland.

On these distant markets, we conduct promotional activities in conjunction with our partners from the Visegrad Group—Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. We publish joint booklets and organize tours of two, three or four Central European countries.

Has the global financial crisis done much harm to the Polish tourist sector?
The crisis has certainly affected inbound tourism because it mainly hit the countries from which Poland received the largest number of tourists. This was particularly noticeable last year. But compared to other industries affected by the crisis, the tourist sector is faring well. The drop in the number of foreign tourists was offset by a marked increase in domestic tourist traffic. Polish people rushed to the Polish seaside and Polish mountains. And during the holiday season, accommodation in popular Polish resorts was hard to find. Preliminary statistics show that this year should be even better than the previous one. A reason for special satisfaction is the expected growth in business tourism.

What are the prospects for the development of business tourism in Poland?
Since it is the most profitable segment of the tourist industry, our goal is to create Poland’s image as a country attractive for any kind of business event. We see the development of business tourism as a chance for the tourist sector as a whole. POT has a separate department, Convention Bureau of Poland, responsible for promoting the convention business in Poland. We are the first contact for those who want information about business partners or conference facilities, and plan to organize a congress or a corporate event in Poland.

The Program of Ambassadors for Polish Congresses is also designed to promote Poland as a venue for international congresses and conferences. Its goal is to attract congresses to Poland and provide effective assistance to Poles working in international organizations, like for example scientists and professionals, in their efforts to attract such events to Poland. We initiated this program when we realized that more than 150 Poles are members of the boards of large international associations. We decided that these people might promote knowledge about Poland’s assets in their international communities and contribute to the choice of Poland as a venue for international events.

But even with the best promotion, tourist traffic will not grow if infrastructure is insufficient. What, in your view, is the greatest barrier to the development of tourism in Poland?
The biggest problem of course is the poor state of road infrastructure. Generally, Poland’s accessibility leaves much to be desired. This is why I am so glad about the projects carried out in the run-up to the Euro 2012 tournament. I do not mean stadiums or hotels, but mainly roads. If we manage to complete at least part of our planned road projects, it will be definite progress. Poland has many tourist attractions that are now difficult to access.

Our hotel industry represents good European standards, although there is a shortage of medium-class hotels in large cities. But there are quite a lot of four-star and five-star hotels. Most of them are new and offer higher standards than similar facilities in Western countries. It comes as no surprise that foreign tourists are very satisfied with them. Our surveys show that as many as 85 percent of foreign tourists give Poland the highest marks and say that what they saw in Poland surpassed their expectations.
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